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Fostering Sustainable Agriculture through Research, Education and Policy since 1984

Farm Organization Meeting Season Coming to an End

After an exceptionally warm January and February, Mother Nature has decided to remind us that winter is not quite finished in Southern Wisconsin yet. As I look out my office window today, I see a fresh blanket of pure white snow covering the ground and a beautiful red Cardinal perched in the tree preening its feathers. After what seems like a frantic pace these past two months, this scene brings me some peace of mind and a chance to reflect on all that has taken place since I started in January at MFAI.

As those of you involved in farming know, December through March is the annual meeting season for most ag-related groups. In the past 60 days, I have attended the EcoFarm Conference, Grasswork’s Grazing Conference, MOSES Organic Farming Conference, spent an evening learning about Anthroposophy, and last but not least, participated in the Family Farmed Good Food Festival and Policy Conference. At each one of these events, I had the opportunity to interact one-on-one with farmers, agribusiness representatives and many people who are just interested in supporting organic and sustainable agriculture. Two common themes emerged from these conversations: 1) How do we get more people interested in buying and eating locally produced food, and 2) How can we get organic farmers and farmers in general to implement sustainable, cost-effective conservation practices in their farming operations?

I do not have any real answers to the first question, but believe the second one is a bit easier to answer. If current farm economic predictions come true, this coming year will see higher input costs, low commodity prices and marginal net farm income. During times of low profits, farmers are reluctant to spend money on conservation practices. Yet, at no other time in farming’s history have we had a better understanding of how cover crops and minimum tillage tools can be used to implement sustainable, cost effective conservation practices on all types of farms. If you review agriculture’s history, the industry has not done a good job of promoting these practices through policy initiatives or farmer education. MFAI has a long history of practical field research and policy promotion in relation to sustainable farming practices. We believe it is important that all agriculture interests work together toward better conservation policies. Further, we hope you will join us as we seek to educate farmers and policy makers on the importance of sustainable conservation implementation.

By the time I write my next blog, many of you will be starting to till the soil for spring planting and hoping for timely rains. Fruit farmers will be worried about early budding and what could happen if we receive a late frost. One thing we can all be sure of is farmers are a resilient group and will handle anything and everything Mother Nature throws their way. Good luck with the 2017 growing season!

Perry Brown, Executive Director